If you're a person with even the slightest awareness of pop culture, then odds are you've heard plenty about Sunday, May 12's episode of Game of Thrones, titled "The Bells." It has become one of the most controversial episodes in the show's history, which might explain why Episode 5 of Game of Thrones is the most-watched episode in the HBO show's history, according to TV Guide, but that's not necessarily a good thing.
Spoilers ahead. The show's penultimate episode from its eighth and final season had the world talking, but for all of the wrong reasons, as outraged fans were panning the episode's shocking finale in which Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) essentially became the Mad Queen and flattened King's Landing. With her irrational demolition, she killed off major characters Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and Varys (Conleth Hill), as well as countless others. People didn't dislike the episode due to its bloodshed, though, they disliked it because it essentially flattened Daenerys into a stereotypical archetype with no apparent explanation except for the flimsy: she's crazy.
In The Hollywood Reporter's review of Episode Episode 5, for example, critic Maureen Ryan pointed out that Daenerys' face isn't shown once the razing of King's Landing begins. That, Ryan wrote, resulted in the Queen of Dragons being "reduced to a vengeance-fueled cypher... She was just a faceless, personality-free supervillain, the kind you see in a by-the-numbers blockbuster. We'd been invited to understand Dany's point of view for all these years, but as the endgame approached in 'The Bells,' the writing made her less interesting than the purple potato known as Thanos."
But, even all the negativity in the world couldn't stop the episode fro becoming the series' most-watched show. According to TV Guide, HBO announced on Tuesday, May 14, that "The Bells" amassed 18.4 million viewers across its various platforms, including cable, HBO GO, and HBO NOW. The same episode also happened to be one of the lowest-rated Game of Thrones episodes on Rotten Tomatoes, too, receiving a 47% score, while the show on average receives 91%.
The Hollywood Reporter noted that the audience who watched "The Bells" live increased by 47% thanks to streaming and other forms of viewing, which means that a lot of people streamed "The Bells" even after seeing fans' angry reactions, knowing full well that they might not enjoy the series' penultimate episode. Game of Thrones fans are so used to seeing their favorite characters die in catastrophic battles, so in a way it makes sense that so many viewers tuned in to see Season 8 fulfilling of the Mad Queen prophecy, even if it wasn't executed to many people's likings.
It's certainly likely that the next episode of Game of Thrones, the series finale airing on May 19, will surpass even "The Bells" in viewership. After all, the series finale of Game of Thrones marks the end of an era and the culmination of a cultural phenomenon. It will be interesting to see how the rating ons the next episode turn out though, given the backlash to episode 5.
Though if the record-breaking viewership of Episode 5 reveal anything, it's that Game of Thrones fans don't want to miss the show's biggest moments, be they for better or worse.